28 Years After My First Day

Twenty-eight years ago today, I started my first job as a Goodwill Ambassador at Fiesta Texas.

Thinking back to that first day, I remember being chewed up and spit out of orientation and put out into the park with almost no direction or guidance. I remember meeting my leads, supervisors, and various other cast members throughout the day, but I wasn’t sure how all of these roles connected to me directly.

I remember also watching a kid come off one of our particularly devilish spinning rides, taking three steps into the walkway, and throwing up more food than I thought was humanly possible. I remember asking someone in a white shirt what we should do about it (supervisors wore white dress shirts at the time), and they sternly told me that they didn’t know and that it was my job “TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!”.

By the end of the day, I was physically exhausted, mentally drained, and didn’t think I’d ever have an appetite again. But I stuck with it. After all, $4.25 an hour was a lot of money to me back then!

Eventually, I’d figure it out with the help of so many of the folks I met that first day and hundreds of other friends I’d make over the next 10+ years. As crazy (and gross) as that first day was, in the long run, it wasn’t even in the top 500 of stories, experiences, and lessons learned from that first summer job that turned into my college job and then into my first job after college.

Every May 13th, I remember that first day, and as the years pass, it gets harder and harder to fathom that so much time has passed since I took my first stomach-churning steps into the world of work 28 not so long years ago.

Are You Getting Better?

The more experienced you get, the easier it is to settle for what you already know. And why not? It has served you well.

Whether it be your profession or how you live your life, you are the result of a million decisions that have brought you to this point. For many, there is perhaps no reason to upend what is already working.

But to continue to enjoy this state, you must grow.

The world won’t slow down because you’ve had enough.

And even if you have no desire to grow in your career or to master a particular skill, the opportunity to live more fully in your personal life should give you plenty of reason to expand your mind.

What would life look like if you could communicate better with the people you care for? What would your financial situation be if you knew more about managing your money? How would your health improve if you were better informed about nutrition and fitness?

These (and others like them) are questions you must consider at every stage of work and life; the pursuit of a life well-lived demands that you do so. Ultimately, however, taking the first step depends on the answer to a much simpler question.

Are you getting better?

5 Reads: Inclusive Meetings, Microstresses, Bad Writing and more

Here are five articles that have had me thinking over the last few weeks:



Greater Good Magazine:

Harvard Business Review:

Good Copy, Bad Copy:

Comfort Zones Are for Expanding, Not Destroying

We’ve all heard it:

“Growth happens outside of your comfort zone”

I’ve even been one of the many people who have said it!

But I think it’s easy to lose an important aspect of growth as it relates to comfort zones. If we push too hard and take people too far outside their comfort zones, growth DOESN’T happen.

The sweet spot for growth is just outside a person’s comfort zone, where they can be both courageous AND safe. This is where the good stuff happens, where people can embrace new ideas and test new approaches all while maintaining the kind of safety that allows them to repeat the process if it doesn’t work the first time around.

The opposite, of course, is pushing people WAY outside their comfort zones (even taking pleasure in and bragging about doing so), and it’s an approach I fear we tend to default to when we want to change people’s minds about things.

It doesn’t work.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to people.

The last thing we should be doing is pushing, pulling, and destroying people’s sense of safety in the name of growth.

If you truly want to help people grow, do the work of helping people step just outside of their comfort zone (but not too far). Cater your approach to the individual. Ask people for feedback on how things are going. Adjust as necessary.

Help people EXPAND their comfort zones slowly but steadily.

We all need to grow.

But it should never come at the cost of psychological safety.

Confidence Requires Intent

Confidence is intentional.

You know the feeling when you’re in your element. When the work is easy but not boring. When time flies, and you find yourself putting off other things because you’re in the zone.

This is when you are at your most confident, and it’s essential to understand when and how it happens.

Why? So you can be intentional about bringing more of it into other aspects of your work and life.

There’s no secret formula for doing so. You need to do more of the types of work that bring you to this flow state more often.

Example: If you love working a spreadsheet, then create or find the opportunity to do so more often than you are doing now. That confidence and experience will serve you well in other aspects of your work. You’ll not only continue to prove you’re expertise in that area, but you’ll also be able to build on that momentum in other areas (you know, the not-so-fun ones).

With regular commitment and practice, a strength can overpower or mitigate weaknesses, and all the while, you’ll be enjoying the work.

What has to come first, however, is a commitment to it.

Don’t let your workday manage you.

Be intentional about building your confidence.

Made a Mistake?

Made a mistake at work? You need to stop beating yourself up over it.

The consequences of your actions (or inactions) will come, and you must be prepared to learn from the situation. There’s no value in piling on the bad feelings through negative self-talk and pity.

Instead, put your energy into growing from the feedback you receive. Handle the situation with grace and professionalism. Be prepared to make things right.

You can’t do these things if your head is not in the right place.

Start by separating who you are from what happened.

You are not a mistake; you made a mistake. You’ve made mistakes before. You’ve overcome other challenges and even helped others do the same.

But you won’t do so if you’ve talked yourself into believing that you can’t.

You can’t change what happened. You can’t go back and prevent it from happening in the first place. All you can do is focus on how you respond.

And that starts, first and foremost, with the mentality you bring to a situation. Make things right. Do your best to learn and keep it from happening again.

But don’t make the job of doing so harder than it needs to be by beating yourself up.

Don’t Take This For Granted

Do not take your status for granted or become dependent on it.

Every day you can build on your experience by learning new skills, gaining new insights from others, and putting them into practice. Choose to make this part of your daily and weekly ritual.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Much less, none of us are guaranteed that our role at work is safe from layoff, restructuring, or diminishment through the advances of technology. Even at the end of our careers, we must face one of life’s most significant professional and personal challenges, retirement.

No career is forever. Plan and work like it.

It’s not pessimistic to think of what might happen should our roles be changed. It’s not even realistic to think that by staying at the forefront of our professions, we can avoid change should it come for us. By choosing to grow, even when at the peak of our careers, we remain on a solid footing that can help us endure difficult times by embracing change and staying true to our principles.

But by not taking ourselves and our roles at work for granted, we can avoid losing ourselves when and if change comes for us.

Change may be inevitable, but being unprepared for it isn’t.

The Next Right Thing

You don’t graduate and start a career. You take the first step, then the next, and the next, and over time, you build a career through ups, downs, and countless adjustments.

In some form or another, that advice makes its way into every workshop or presentation I give to students. It’s what I wish I had known when I was wrapping up my education, and it’s what I think serves us all well even as we advance in our work and lives.

Big Picture Thinking:

While it’s important, from time to time, for us to think about the big picture, an over-emphasis on the long term can keep us from focusing on the present. And if we lose sight of what matters most here and now, no amount of big-picture thinking will save us.

The First Right Step:

So we need to ask ourselves regularly…

What matters most? How might we work toward those things today? This week? This month? What’s the right thing to do right here, right now?

And then we must take the first step, then the next, and the next, and over time, through ups, downs, and countless adjustments, we can go about building a meaningful life.

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